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'It’s impossible to teach for the children now – we teach only to tick boxes'

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I'm in my sixth year of teaching and I still feel the same about being in the classroom. I enjoy building relationships with children over the year, knowing that having you in their lives gives them a stable, consistent figure that they may not have at home. I love the process of building them into respectful, polite young people who have aspirations to succeed despite their background. I get a sense of enormous satisfaction from teaching them academic foundation skills that they can go on to develop further. It’s all about the child, and that’s why I got into the job.

However, the policies of government and Ofsted are stripping these elements from our daily lives in the classroom: we don’t teach for the children now, we teach to tick boxes.  

As teachers it's not enough to talk to your students and offer them advice on how to develop their work or how to become a better learner, you need to write it down. This is not for the child, this is for "outsiders" – whether that's other teachers, leaders, senior management or inspectors.

Watching your interactions with students and your teaching is no longer enough either, we also need to document every second of our time. Again, this is not for the child, it is for those same outsiders to check on our every move.

Yesterday, I was teaching a maths lesson with my Year 6 class. I modelled the procedure, the class had a go at one of the tasks. Melissa went slightly wrong. Normally, I would have popped over to her desk, talked her through the process, asked her where she thought she might have gone wrong, asked her to retry. It’s not enough to do that now. Instead, I had to write the series of questions in her book. Not because it helped her in anyway – the verbal feedback had been enough – but to prove to outsiders that this interaction had occurred: children's books have to “evidence” every conversation about learning.

It’s not only in the day-to-day interactions where we are now restricted. I love being creative as a teacher, trying to make lessons memorable and exciting so the learning sticks. But you cannot now have an idea overnight and think that would be amazing to do in class. No, this particular idea may not have a direct objective to hit, so how could it possibly be “good learning”? So lesson cancelled. Heaven forbid you teach a lesson for experience and fun, that you take a risk to see where it could take the child, that you aim for something more than an age-expected outcome. 

It gets worse. I need to tick boxes to ensure my students can pass a test, not necessarily know what they are talking about. I teach vocabulary they will never use again, just to ensure they hit a target. I have to tell children they can't solve that calculation in a way that isn't an accepted method, even though they get the right answer. 

It’s not only that this climate leads to teachers unnecessarily completing paperwork for no benefit, contributing to the workload issues that are already forcing so many of my colleagues leaving the profession. It’s that we’re not teaching children to be successful in all areas of their life. We’re not teaching children for their own benefit at all. We’re teaching children to satisfy others, to meet measures dreamed up in distant London offices, to tick boxes so that they can check we’re doing as we are told. It’s micromanagement centred on external accountability not the needs of the child. And it is stripping the joy, and more importantly the meaning, out of teaching.

Lucy Reed is a Year 6 teacher in the South of England working in one of the most deprived areas in the country

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